Pictured, is Rhea County High School Eagle soccer player, Cooper Ruehling (seated, center), signing his national letter of intent to play for the Bryan College Lions. Ruehling is joined by his family at the signing table, which occurred at RCHS on Thursday, April 15.

(Sunday, April 18, 2021 edition)

Rhea County High School (RCHS) senior soccer player, Cooper Ruehling, became the latest RCHS student athlete to sign his name on the proverbial dotted line, as he inked his national letter of intent on Thursday, April 15, to play for the Bryan College Lions.

Family, friends, loved ones, teammates, coaches, pastors, members of his church youth group, teachers and administrators gathered in the commons area at RCHS to show their support of Ruehling, the standout Eagle defensive midfielder.

Ruehling, a multi-sport athlete, who also played for the Eagles’ golf team for four years and the Eagles’ basketball team for two, began his days on the pitch in the sixth grade, when he played for the Rhea Middle School Eagles’ soccer team.

“I’ve loved all of the sports I’ve ever played, and our coaches have done a fantastic job, and they’ve pushed me to get here, and I’m so thankful for them,” said Ruehling. “I started playing soccer in sixth grade. […] It just wasn’t a thing here in Rhea County, and they kept encouraging and pushing me to play soccer, telling me I’d be good at it. Finally, they got on my nerves about playing, so I signed up, figured I’d go out and try it, and it’s one of the best decisions, sports-wise, that I’ve ever made. I’ve had a blast with it.”

Much excitement was in the air for his signing, as Ruehling enthusiastically expressed his gratitude to God and to the many people who have supported him along his journey to get where he is today.

“First, and foremost, I would like to thank God for the opportunity to continue my soccer career, and I’m very excited about that,” said Ruehling.  He went on to specifically thank his parents, grandparents, RCHS soccer coach, Justin Smith, Rhea Middle School soccer coach, Zach Daily, his pastors at New Union Baptist Church, his teammates and friends.

“It means a lot to me to have all those people here today for my signing, because I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Ruehling of his close-knit support group. “They’ve all pushed to get me where I am today, whether that’s with soccer, or just me spiritually. My pastors have gone to countless breakfasts, rounds of golf and they’ve always helped me, talked me through things, pushed me to be a man of God. My family of course, they take care of me and take me everywhere. It’s a blessing to have that, and it’s been a blast.”

Ruehling, who will be pursuing a degree in Christian Ministries this fall, was excited about the signing day’s activity, but is really excited about the opportunity to play at the next level, particularly for Bryan College.

“It feels really good. It’s been years in the making, and I’m excited to take my soccer career up to Bryan,” said Ruehling. “I had planned on going to Bryan for a couple of years now, because I’ve been wanting to go there for Christian Ministries, to pursue a degree in that.

“And, I knew I wanted to stay close to home,” continued Ruehling. “That way, I can stay plugged in to our church, and have multiple ministry opportunities there. So, just being able to sign to play soccer for Bryan is going to be a blast.”

Ruehling’s older brother, Carson Ruehling, is already on the Bryan College soccer team, and Cooper looks forward to joining him on the Lions’ squad.

“It’s pretty fun. We have that little brotherly rivalry and we push each other to be better,” said Ruehling about what it meant to rejoin his brother as teammates. “We’re at that stage in college, where all the brother petty fights are over, like we had in high school. I think it will be more fun the second time around, as we’re both going to be in college and on our own, so I’m really excited about it.”

One of Ruehling’s favorite moments at RCHS came during his freshman year, when the Eagles defeated Cleveland High School 1-0 in the Region 3-AAA semifinals to advance to the region championship.

“My favorite moment, hands down, my freshman year, playing Cleveland in the region semifinals,” said Ruehling. “Coach Smith put me in during the first half. They started doing all of these goal kicks and stuff, and I started winning the ball out of the air. Coach told me, that’s why he left me in the game. So, I just kept winning the ball in the air, which was good for us.

“I’ll never forget the moment in overtime, when Christian Newport put the ball in the net for us to go up 1-0 to beat them, which was a big moment for our program,” continued Ruehling. “We had never been past the district championship, so for us to be in the region semifinals, not only locked in the region championship game, but the substate game also, just that feeling, I’ll never forget it.”

Missing his junior season because of the eventual shutdown of all spring sports due to C0VID-19, Ruehling is very appreciative of getting to play his senior season.

“I’m really thankful, because our three seniors we had last year, Saul Ochoa, Landon Davidson and Zac Barnett, we had a senior night for them last week, since they didn’t get one last year,” said Ruehling. “I mean, it sucks, because you get to your senior season, and that’s what everybody wants, you’re at the top of your class, and they got it taken away from them. So, I’m just glad, through the pandemic, we’ve been allowed to come out here and be able to play my senior year.

“The most important thing is, you know, sports is sports, and I’m excited to go play, but the most important thing for those people who will hear this, is to pursue God,” continued Ruehling. “That’s the most important thing to do. If you seek a relationship with him, he’s going to seek a relationship with you. He gives a peace that surpasses all. Once you seek him, your view of this world, it’s crazy how it changes. He’s just such a loving God, and that’s my most important piece of advice that I can give, is just to pursue him.”

Coach Smith lauded Ruehling’s work ethic and competitiveness he has shown on the field while at RCHS.

“His competitive drive, his tenacity on the field, even to a fault sometimes, of us having to say, ‘Get back in your position,’ because he was trying to do so much work,” said Smith. “I love that about you, “Coop.” I love having watched you grow over the last few years, as a player and as a man. I’m excited for your future, and I’m excited for who you’re becoming.”

Bryan College is a 4-year NAIA school located in Dayton, Tenn., and competes in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC), along with such local Tennessee teams as Tennessee Wesleyan University and Milligan University. Ruehling will be playing for second-year Bryan Lions’ head soccer coach, Jeremy Davidson.

Prior to the official signing and picture parts of the day’s ceremony, RCHS Director of Athletics, Jeremy Fitzgerald, Coach Smith, Coach Davidson, RCHS Assistant Principal and father of Cooper Ruehling, Micah Ruehling, all shared stories and encouraging words about Cooper. To view the full video, visit The Herald-News’ Facebook page.